If people develop mostly through experiences and assignments, then it is imperative we excel at mastering the moves.
Getting a high potential moved to a bigger challenge, exposing a future general manager to cross-functional roles, bringing an international talent through a headquarters stint are all examples of masterful moves.
Yet in the unrelenting daily pressures of business, we often fall short of mastery. At times we fill critical openings with the most available employee. We let average performers linger in high quality developmental roles. We hope everyone just settles down and endures another year in the same job for the sake of the business.
In short, we manage as best we can.
The difference between manage and mastery can be viewed as playing out two different strategies on a talent formation board.
The manage strategy is operating as checkers. All the pieces look the same, can make the same moves and essentially are of equal worth to win. At first the checker strategy feels right as pieces move ahead, taking advantage of immediate open places.
But in the long run problems occur as we realize not all pieces do well in all roles. Some of the best are stuck in the back row and can’t be maneuvered to the optimal placed for growth and contribution. Critical roles are filled mostly with solid players who settle in and cannot advance further.
Our attention is consumed by all the openings today, and we rarely think about what the talent board looks like in three or four moves from now. By not producing high quality “ready now” talent for tomorrow, we’re doomed to manage the crisis of the day over and over again.
Mastery, by contrast, is seeing the talent formation board as a chess master. Each piece has unique properties with different potential and move capabilities. Each opening is seen as part of an unfolding strategy pattern of move options with equal consideration to today and tomorrow.
I once saw the mastery in action at a CEO leadership team meeting. The group was frustrated by the lack of progress in creating more general managers and high potentials with broader experiences outside of their functional silos. These executives realized they had to step in and personally own cross-functional movement at the more senior levels as a start.
One executive jumped up to a flip chart and wrote two headings on a page — “needing x-function move” and “possible x-function roles.” The remainder of the session was spent listing possible people and roles.
By the end, we had well over a dozen for each list. Follow-up assignments were given and a month later we had begun discussions with a half-dozen leaders. The first few moves were quite successful and within two years many more employees throughout the organization were crossing functional career silos for career enhancing assignments.
So how do we move from talent development manage to mastery?
Consider learning the best talent development players out there. A recent talent mobility study published by the Institute for Corporate Productivity provides an insightful guide. The study of more than 600 firms identified key strategies and practices that separate the checker players from the talent chess masters.
Among the differences, talent mobility masters could clearly articulate an overall plan and defined process for meaningfully moving talent. Senior management saw talent mobility as an integral part of their approach to business success.
They were innovative in using a broad range of assignments, including positively deploying lateral, cross-division and geographic movement. And they systematically measured performance and retention with movement, producing consistently higher scores than those with weaker, inconsistent practices.
I encourage you to step back and honestly assess how your organization has played the talent game lately. Do you have a set of consistently applied mastery plans and practices?
If not, consider two or three key practices that would elevate your game. Then engage your leaders in understanding the importance of playing the talent formation board as masters. Doing so will increase your odds of winning the talent formation challenge.
(c.) Kevin D. Wilde 2016